I had a fairly frustrating meeting today. I met with someone who has a 9 month old dog and who kept insisting that her dog was a puppy. This is not an uncommon error, especially after the “puppy food for a full year till he is full grown” dog food ad from the 1980s. In this ad, a cute cartoon puppy came onto the screen and explained why a growing young dog needed puppy food until he was full grown. Many people think that their young dogs are puppies until they are fully grown because you feed puppy food until they are fully grown. A better term for puppy food, and one often used now in marketing is “growth formula”. Dogs need a different ratio of calcium to phosphorus while they are growing in order to lay down solid bone mass than they do as adults, so feeding a growth formula is important until the young dog stops growing. In large breed dogs this may happen at about one year of age, and in giant breed dogs, this may not happen until the dog is almost two. Never the less, these young dogs are NOT puppies.

Puppy is a general term for a young dog, but it is more accurate to use it the way we would use “infant”. If your son or daughter is 15, you would not refer to him or her as an infant! My great grandparents referred to their two children as “the babies” in my hearing when my grandmother and her brother were well into their seventies; this was a cultural thing I am sure, but no one would have mistaken these older adults as actual infants. Likewise, I have a number of students who refer to their dogs generically as “the pups” or “the puppies” even when they are much older dogs.

puppy rottweiler
This series of images shows a young puppy, a puppy, a young adolescent, an older adolescent, a young adult and an adult Rottweiler. At each age, we should know what to expect, and we should optimize our relationships with our dogs by being clear in our understanding of what they can and cannot do.

So, what is frustrating about having a young adult dog referred to as a puppy? As with so many things, it depends! If you are referring to your “pups” as in “the pups are with us today” I don’t have a problem. When you are excusing misbehaviour in an adult dog because he is “just a puppy” things unravel fairly quickly. Language forms expectation. When you have a 9 month old sub adult oradolescent, you start to run into difficulty, so I thought that perhaps it is time for me to create a resource that outlines a little more accurately the ages your dog goes through and what to expect.

Puppies! Puppies come in younger and older versions, but when they have all their adult teeth, they are absolutely no longer puppies. In fact, once they have lost all their puppy teeth, even when not all of their adult teeth have come in, they are no longer puppies or infants. Generally, puppies should come home between 7 and 9 weeks, with 8 weeks being optimal for most breeds. Between 8 and 12 weeks they should meet and learn about their families and by 16 weeks they should have been well exposed to most of the people and things they will meet by the time they are adults. They should not be over exposed during this time however as they can develop significant fears if you don’t expose them carefully. By 20 weeks, your young dog should be completely house trained unless he or she has a medical problem. Teething should be coming an end by the end of puppyhood too, but that doesn’t mean that your older dog won’t enjoy chewing; it just means that he or she will no longer need to chew in order to cut help the growing teeth to cut through the gums. Usually it does not take that long to exercise a puppy because they are too young to tolerate more than about a half an hour of activity at a time.

We all have great memories of our silly, floppy, little baby dogs! One of my favourite memories was of getting D’fer, our Chesapeake Bay Retriever. He came to us on the airplane at 9 weeks of age and on the way home we stopped for gas. I took him on leash to toilet while John filled the tank, and he found a paper cup. He was a creative little soul even then, and he picked it up and delivered it to hand. Good puppy! He was a fun baby dog even when he scared us by jumping up on an agility table and then walking off the edge of it and falling flat on his face!

Meeting D’fer for the very first time! I think John and I look awfully young here too. This was the first day of a thirteen year long love affair we had with this very special dog.

Adolescents. Adolescent dogs are slightly older than puppies. Adolescence starts when the adult teeth are mostly in and can last almost forever! Generally, though adolescence can start as early as 12 weeks and can last until your young dog is between one and two. It is hard to determine exactly when it starts and stops just as it is difficult to tell in humans, so we usually use behaviour to tell when this is going on. Like human adolescents, you will notice irritability, impulsivity, frustration, extreme confidence, extreme fear and lots of learning! Often the learning we see in adolescent dogs includes learning things like how to avoid being caught, how to get into the fridge to steal the cheese and how to avoid bath time. It is important at this age to carefully teach our dogs that they should come when called, stay when told and walk nicely on a leash. If you are seeing fear behaviours, you cannot socialize your way through these any longer because your dog is now past the age where socialization can occur. During adolescence you may need to engage in some remedial socialization through desensitization and counter conditioning. Exercise is something that adolescent dogs need but you have to watch for fatigue because they are still growing.

I well remember Eco, my black German Shepherd when he just started to hit adolescence. He was about thirteen weeks old when we saw the first signs of independence coming along and he decided that anything the big kids could do he could do too. One morning as all the dogs were jumping into the truck, he charged up, and paused. The truck was too high for him to jump but he was determined, so he reared himself up and tried and slammed against the running board. He was REALLY sure he could do it and about two weeks later he was right. As an adolescent, he had many great adventures that reflected his determination, his drive and his certainty that he was right and could do anything that any of the older dogs could do, only better, faster and stronger! This can do attitude stood us in good stead as we started protection work, tracking and obedience work and at the end of adolescence, he titled in obedience because we were able to channel his exuberance into focus and work.

Eco 028
The three dogs in the foreground are all adolescents at the time of this image. Eco is the black German Shepherd to the right of the image. The black and the white poodle were one month older and one month younger than Eco. Play with other dogs is very common in adolescents, but not all adults dogs maintain this behaviour through adulthood. Eco did not enjoy play with all other dogs past the age of about 18 months of age, when he was a young adult. The white poodle, Yarrow, was playful with other dogs well into middle age.

Young adulthood. Dogs are young adults between the ages of about 7 months (more or less, depending on breed!) and 4 years. Once again, the age at which a dog becomes a young adult is a little spongy, just as it is for humans. Four is about the time that most dogs hit social maturity, which in humans is equivalent to between 25 and 30. This is the age when most adult humans realize the importance of things like voting and participating in community development. We are mostly past the early setting up of our lives, and we have the mental resources for this. So until that happens, we are capable, fit and useful young adults who can do amazing physical things and learn the basics of our careers. Until social maturity, dogs are much the same. Most young adult dogs are extremely trainable, especially if they have had a good foundation in puppyhood and adolescence. They are mostly very willing participants in the training process. For working dogs, they are in the early stages of their careers; they still have some polish to gain, but they can perform the work they will be doing and usually they can perform it really well. Generally young adult dogs need a fair amount of exercise and depending on your dog’s breed you should plan on spending 45 minutes to an hour providing that.

As a young adult, D’fer began working as my service dog. He wasn’t perfect and I remember being interviewed once by a newspaper when he was having a young dog moment. He needed a little extra work and reminder that when he was in harness he should not bolt forward and bounce up or down the stairs. I remember the reporter being quite surprised that I was stopping every three stairs to remind him to stay right beside me and to treat him when he got the right answer. Deef was truly a young dog at the time and although he knew his job, he lacked finesse and polish.

D’fer working with me as a young adult dog. You can see that he understands his work but I know that he needed a lot of support to be successful in his work.

Adulthood. Dogs are adults from about 1 until between 5 and 8 when they hit middle age. This time frame corresponds to the human ages of 18 to about 45. There are still a lot of developmental stages that occur during this time frame, but in general you can see the dog’s personality stabilize and you can expect that he will be fairly consistent in his behaviour though out this time frame. They should not be having accidents in the house, they should not be chewing items up, they should know the rules and for the most part they should follow those rules. They DO need exercise, but now if you skip a day it should not be a tragedy.

As an adult, Friday began to accompany John on his remote backpacking trips into Algonquin park. She was fit, healthy and able to keep up to John as well as to carry her own pack. She never chewed things up such as tents, packs, sleeping bags or gear. She is a good companion for John and she has joined him on every remote backpacking adventure for the past five years or so. She is also versatile and has earned titles in obedience with John. She has taken countless workshops trying out a variety of sports such as frisbee, musical freestyle, tricks and tracking. Adult dogs are go there and do that creatures who make our lives much more interesting just by doing things with us.

Middle age. Middle age could also be considered the golden age for most dogs. In dogs this can begin as early as 5 or 6 and last until as late as 13 or 14 or even older for a small breed dog. Usually, dogs don’t need regular training but they still enjoy it. Usually they don’t need quite as much exercise, but they can still tolerate it. Usually they know the rules and they haven’t yet forgotten them, however they may have become savvy about which rules have exceptions. I think I may love middle age more than any other age, except for those moments when the wind starts to blow at the door, and I start to realize that we may be coming to the end of an era. Just like with people, middle aged dogs often get the “creaks and aches”. You may see arthritis start to appear. Vision may not be as good as it used to be. Your dog may be a little less eager and a little less willing to do the things you used to do together. And you may realize that you know and love one another in a way that you have never known or loved another being before. Middle age truly is the golden age for me when it comes to my dogs.

This picture of Friday was taken just after she was diagnosed with cancer in early middle age. I am thrilled to report that she has survived this cancer and has gone on to do more trips with John and shows no signs of slowing down! Good girl Friday.

John’s dog Friday is now in middle age. She is still able to go on remote backcountry trips but she is not as active as she used to be. She has survived cancer so we keep an eye on her health a little more closely than we did when she was a younger adult. We know that she is more susceptible to injuries too so John is careful to do lots of warm up with her before asking her to do really active things. On the plus side, she is really willing to meditate with him every day and as an adolescent or young adult she probably would not have thought that was a good idea!

Old age. In giant breeds of dog such as the Great Dane, old age could begin as early as 7, and in tiny breeds such as miniature poodles, it may not arrive until the dog is into his teens. Old age for dogs is an individual thing. Some old dogs are active right up to the end. Some dogs start to slow down sooner rather than later. Every dog is different! In old age, you may see a few behaviours that are reminiscent of puppyhood. Your older dog may start waking up at night. He may break housetraining. He may also forget his skills training. Dogs get a form of dementia called Cognitive Dysfunction, or Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. There are medications that can help, but just like with humans, dogs who are affected are often confused and don’t remember breakfast even though they may remember that one special place every time you drive past it. I think with our senior dogs it is really important to take every day as it comes and do what our old friends feel up to doing. I have had some incredible adventures with my very elderly dogs, but I have also had some serious frustrations!

I don’t have any digital images of Buddy, so D’fer as an old man will have to do. Deef was about thirteen in this picture and he had to go to the vet that day, so we lifted him into the truck and tucked him into his crate with a horse blanket so that he would not get cold on the way.

One of my favourite memories of Buddy, my second German Shepherd happened about three months before he died. His bed had been under a picture window in our bedroom for many years, because it was cooler there in the summer and he had a thick coat so he didn’t mind in the winter either. As he aged, he started to feel the cold though, so one morning I tore apart the bedroom so that I could move his bed. He lay outside in the sunshine snoozing while I did this, and when I was done, I called him in. He walked into the bedroom and ambled over to where his bed used to be and stopped dead. If a dog could look appalled, Buddy did! And then he looked sad and confused. I gently showed him where I had moved the bed to, and he brightened right up and then he looked confused again. He looked at the bed. He looked at where the bed had been. Then he looked at his bed again. Then he looked back and he started to pant in a very stressy manner. He started to pace. And I decided that some of the time, old dogs know best, so I put him back outside and put his bed back where it belonged.

Enjoy every age with your dog, but understand that how you talk about your dog’s age does inform your expectations. When you label your adolescent or young adult dog as a puppy be careful that you are not setting up an expectation that he is not capable of doing things that he is able to do.



Friday this spring on one of her more active days, hoping I will throw her toy for her.

Cancer is a funny thing.  No one wants to mention it, and everyone wants to know.  As many of you know if you have been following my blog, a few months ago, John’s dog Friday was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer.  Technically it is a CarcinoSarcoma in the mammary tissue.  To treat this, she had 3 of 5 of the mammary glands on one side removed, and then underwent chemotherapy.  The day that the vet gave us the bad news, he told us that the average life expectancy was about 4 months for a dog with Friday’s diagnosis.  That didn’t mean a lot of time for her!  Our best hope to help her out was chemotherapy, and rest and lots of love.  Luckily, Friday is well loved.

The day we got her diagnosis, we started the chemo.  John and I went out to a restaurant, had lunch and worked on our laptops.  John was very sad and distracted.  I was annoyed and intense.  That is just how we dealt with that particular stress.  A few hours later we went back to the Ontario Veterinary College and picked Friday up.  The staff were wonderful and complimented us on how well trained Friday was, and how easy she was to handle and treat.  Her sound genetics, early socialization, and great training made what could have been a rodeo a very easy time for her. If for no other reason, train your dog so that medical procedures are easier.

On the day she came home from surgery, Friday wore a Jafco muzzle to keep her from licking her incision. Generally we find our dogs to be much more comfortable in a muzzle than a cone. We had to teach Friday to be comfortable in a muzzle, but this works so much better for most dogs that we teach all our dogs to wear a muzzle when they are young so that we can use one if we need.

We came home to some hard realities.  No class for a week.  No long walks.  Keep her quiet.  She could die.  We handled this the way we often do; with some humour.  Friday is not usually allowed in bed with us, but now, when she looked to John to see if she could come up, and John looked at me, I took her voice and said “I’m dying you know.  If you really loved me, you would let me sleep in bed with you.”  John laughed and thus began a joke between the three of us anytime that Friday looked at us and obviously asked for something.  “I’m dying you know.  If you really loved me, you would take me to get the mail with you.  If you really loved me you would share your venison with me.  If you really loved me you would stuff a kong for me.  If you really loved me, you would take me for a drive in the car.”  The thing about cancer is that in some ways it can be very freeing.  You can absolutely justify any fun thing at all.  And we did.

“I am dying you know. If you really loved me, you would let me sleep in bed with you.” We really love you Friday. Notice that John wrapped her in the duvet.!

Friday had chemo every three weeks, which really gave us a rhythm to follow.  Right after chemo, there was really no difference in her behaviour for about 24 hours.  Sometimes she would develop a bit of nausea, but we had good medication to control that so she was quite comfortable most of the time in that regard.  She did lose some weight, but generally she ate normally post chemo; it was just that chemo takes a lot out of the dog, so she got a little thin.  During that first week, she would be very tired and she would sleep a lot. 

Friday became a prodigious sleeper in the week following chemo!

In the second week, she would recover quite a bit, and slowly, by the third week she would begin to bounce back to near normal energy levels.  What she really lost was stamina though.  Although she enjoyed going to classes in her second and third weeks, she would tire quickly and about half way through a class she just wanted to sleep.  Life as a demo dog in a school means that she has a crate of her own with her own bed and water in it, and she is really accustomed to being there, so once she had enough, she would just go to her bed.  She also lost some strength and oomph.  Throughout her chemo, we used a ramp to help her in and out of the dog training truck.  Again, her training really helped her because we were able to teach her how to use the ramp in one 60 second training session.

In the canoe! Dogs with cancer still like adventures, and it was important to us to keep looking for adventures that Friday could do, so we taught her to lie in the bottom of the canoe and go for short trips on our farm pond.

Friday was shedding her winter coat when she had chemo, and so she didn’t grow any normal undercoat this summer.  That makes her feel kind of funny when you pet her!  The veterinary oncologist, Dr. Hocker, assures us it will grow in normally during her next shed this fall.  Otherwise, we don’t notice any real physical changes with her. 

At the end of five rounds of chemo, Friday was discharged from treatment.  We could have anesthetized her and done radiographs and an ultrasound to find out if there is any more cancer left in her, however, we really didn’t want to put her through more stress when the diagnostics would not direct her next step in treatment.  In veterinary medicine we learned, chemo is not intended to cure cancer, but rather to make an animal more comfortable.  Friday is not considered cured, but we don’t have to go back for more treatment either.  If she gets sick and we think she has more cancer, we will do the minimum amount of diagnostics to find out what is going on and then we will make her comfortable and allow her to have the best quality of life until the end. 

We know that Friday likely has less than another year to live; the record for a dog with her type of cancer was one full year post diagnosis to death.  This is a bit hard, but living with a dog whose days are numbered actually has an upside.  When we start to forget to have fun with her, to spoil her a bit, or to bend the rules “just because”, one of us will look at the other and say “I am dying you know.  You should throw the frisbee.”  For the most part, Friday is bright, active and alert as they like to say, and she is very engaged again in going for walks, meditating every day with John (he meditates; she lays her head on his lap, and if it is cold he wraps her in his meditation shall with him), going to training classes and being the awesome demo dog she has been for the school for the past 7 years.  She behaves a little older now than her actual age, but in general she is herself and that is wonderful.

John meditates every day, and Friday joins him. Our farmhouse is over 160 years old, and it is quite cold, so often Friday and John would wrap themselves up before they started the meditation. This was an important part of how John and Friday continued to do things that were very normal for them, which is important for anyone living with cancer.

So Friday is done with cancer treatment for the time being, and she and John are beginning to get fit for their annual fall trip to Algonquin.  Now you know, but please, ask!  We love telling people about Friday’s journey with cancer and even when it is hard, we appreciate knowing that she is in your thoughts! 

Friday is still completely herself, and we are treasuring every day with her. Every morning she greets the world with enthusiasm and drive, and reminds us that even when you are dying, you can still do the things you love!

If you would like to know about the beginning of this journey, please read https://mrsbehaviour.com/2018/03/27/it-will-be-alright/ .